Filmmakers met with Culture Ministry officials yesterday morning, with the indie directors airing their grievances over plans to give half the ministry's 200-million-baht "Strong Thailand" film funds to the sequels in the big-budget historical-epic franchise, The Legend of King Naresuan 3 (ตำนาน สมเด็จนเรศวรมหาราช 3) and 4.
The biggest revelation to come out of the meeting is that Culture Ministry officials said they had no idea the Naresuan movies had already been pledged 330 million baht in support under the Commerce Ministry's "creative economy" scheme.
Under the Culture Ministry plan, 100 million baht of the Strong Thailand (Thai Khem Kaeng, ไทย เข้มแข็ง) money would go the Naresuan movies by veteran director Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol. The other 100 million baht would be divvied up among 48 other projects. In all, 295 projects had been submitted, leaving 246 unsupported.
The filmmakers, among them Manit Sriwanichpoom (Citizen Juling) and Cannes prize-winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Blissfully Yours, Tropical Malady), say the money would be better spent by giving it more filmmakers to make smaller projects.
An earlier report by the Post's Kong Rithdee says that the 100 million for Naresuan 3 and 4 would be used to film one scene -- an epic elephant battle between the 16th century Siamese monarch Naresuan the Great and a Burmese prince.
The government has said its idea is that the Naresuan movies would turn a profit and the money could be plowed back into a fund that would go to support more movies.
The Bangkok Post assigned a reporter to write a story for today's paper. Here's a snip:
Apichatpong Weerasethakul said it was unclear whether the budget of 200 million baht was intended to stimulate the economy or to support the film industry.
"If the government wants to stimulate the economy, they would be risking up to 50% of the entire budget on just one film," he said.
There have also been concerns about the transparency of the funding allocation, and accusations that the Culture Ministry is biased.
There's more in an editorial in today's Bangkok Post. Here's a bit of that:
One defence [the Culture Ministry] has been sticking to is that the 100 million baht is a loan that the film has to return to state coffers once the movie is released to the public. But this line of reasoning seriously jeopardises the integrity of the government's policy structure, since the Culture Ministry is not a lending office to filmmakers or any profit-seeking enterprises, but an agency whose job is to promote cultural diversity. To unabashedly support a historical film - one might even go as far as to view it as nationalist propaganda - the ministry can be seen as sending out a signal which brand of 'culture' it recognises more than others.
Apichatpong stands to receive 3.5 million baht under the Strong Thailand scheme, money he says he could use to defray debts he incurred making his latest feature, the Cannes-competition-bound Loong Boonmee Raluek Chaat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives).
But he won't accept the Culture Ministry's money until there's a proper accounting.
Manit has said the filmmakers will make a formal complaint to the Administrative Court and the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the transparency of the budget allocation.